I suspect that most folks who would read this are aware of the current furor over self-identified Catholic Kathleen Sebelius’ announcement that Catholic institutions will have to fund free sterilization, birth control, and abortifacients in their employees’ insurance as part of Obamacare. At last count, 115 bishops have stood up against the requirement that the Church must enable sin.
A somewhat contrarian Catholic voice to this has been provided by Karl Denninger, who points out that the Church (or loud factions thereof) has never strongly opposed tax funding of contraception. I think that he ignores what opposition there has been on that score, but he is in essence correct that leftist Catholics have had no issue with Catholic money funding sin, as long as they aren’t the ones collecting the money. If they made exceptions to the socialist program on the basis of certain sins, they would need to admit all sins… and the modern welfare state has encouraged sloth, envy, and gluttony, and is funded by theft. He’s absolutely right that the lines should have been drawn long before. Part of the problem is that Catholic social teaching doesn’t have the same clarity as Catholic teaching on sexual issues. It’s a lot more like their stand on capital punishment…if it weren’t for the capital punishment of Jesus, we’d still be damned, and there’s a certain embarrassing history of “turning over to the secular arm”, but it’s pretty obviously state murder, so the message comes out that “we’re not going to say it’s a sin, but we’re against it in almost all circumstances”. Likewise, the social teaching of the Church begins with “What would Jesus do?”, but gets tangled in how to apply that to industrial and post-industrial society, with non-concepts such as “social justice” (Is society a moral actor? ) leading to turning charity over “to the secular arm”. To an extent, the HHS mandate is liberal Catholicism’s chickens coming home to roost.
In spite of this valid point, there IS a difference between permitting individual Catholic consciences to be raped by the State, and having to pay as an institution for the rape of conscience, because it is the Church collecting the money, even if the State is waving the guns around. Denninger has similar fuzzy thinking when he suggests that the Church could simply provide the insurance, and that no sin would be committed because Catholics do not use “reproductive services.” This is laughable. First, Catholic social services sometimes hire non-Catholics, who would not feel themselves bound by church teaching on this, but contraception is a sin whether practiced by Catholics, Protestants, or heathens, and the Church would be enabling it. Second, Catholics themselves use such things, especially when they’re free. As Denninger said, they could be excommunicated, but how are you going to prove the case? And the Church is hard up enough for membership that they won’t even deal with egregious scandalous cases like Nancy Pelosi; nobody is going to send in the Inquisition to find out why you only have one child…not when you could say that you’re really good with NFP. Also, past sins have no relation with the present. Just because American Catholicism has screwed up tax-funded matters for the better part of a century, it doesn’t mean that they have to get this wrong too, just to be consistently wrong. Repentance is always a possibility.
Vox Day attaboys Denninger, but adds in an issue of his own:
I think it is great that the Roman Catholic Church is finally being leashed and brought to heel. Perhaps now it will finally understand that a government that possesses the power to dictate to others in accordance with your wishes is a government with the power to dictate to you in accordance with the wishes of others. The Church has always been at its best when it is standing in opposition to the governments of the world, and at its worst when it is working in collaboration with them.
It is never good for an institution to be brought under the heel of the government. A violation of rights is wrong even if you think the recipient is richly deserving of the educatiuon. And it’s not the place of the Church to be for or against governments; its Kingdom is not of this world , and it has done best when ignoring the secular arm. The Church has always had a delicate balancing act with regard to the State, which fears any competing center of power. It opposes the state only on religious matters. Sometimes the State has made the religious into the political, as in the refusal to honor the Roman state deities. The Church will not burn incense to the secular Moloch of abortion, sacramental as it may seem to some, and that will again put it on a collision course with government power. The martyrs may be white rather than red, but martyrs there will be, and the same winner as always.
UPDATE 2/1: Denninger has another post on this, with some new logic lapses. First he gripes that Catholics have had to pay for treatment of STDs that are contracted by violating the sexual rules of the Church. Does he really think that being able to treat the clap creates a moral hazard and an incitement to sin? Or is it in fact cleaning up the mess left by sin…which arguably is the Church’s core mission? Likewise, type-2 diabetes is contracted through gluttony; was it hypocritical for the Church not to object to that? Then he deals with the issue of the Catholic “faithful” and birth control, and how they can’t be excommunicated. That’s true…but it’s a problem of catechesis. Priests are reluctant to take on ANY sin, especially birth control, and if they won’t do the easiest thing, they won’t do the hardest. So 98% of PiPs are using unnatural family planning? 98% of Catholics eat too much, 98% take the Lord’s name in vain, cheat on their taxes, gossip, or commit any other sin you might care to name. But the Church doesn’t pay for those sins. OK, this is a wedge issue to get the PiPs to take birth control seriously…again, what is wrong with that?